This is an ongoing review of Christian author and former homicide detective J. Warner Wallace’s book, “Cold-Case Christianity”.
Wallace: As investigators, we just employed [in a criminal case just discussed in the book] a methodology known as abductive reasoning (also known as “inferring to the most reasonable explanation”) in order to determine what we had at this [crime] scene. We collected all the evidential data and made a mental list of the raw facts. We then developed a list of the possible explanations that might account for the scene in general. Finally, we compared the evidence to the potential explanations and determined which explanation was, in fact, the most reasonable inference in light of the evidence. p. 35
Gary: This certainly sounds rational. But don’t we skeptics do this? When we skeptics look at the evidence for the early Christian Resurrection belief we too develop a list of possible explanations that account for the agreed upon facts related to the death of Jesus and his alleged resurrection. We skeptics have quite a number of possible explanations in fact, all of which we believe are much more probable than a supernatural resurrection. Why don’t conservative Christians see this? How is it possible that we skeptics and Christians arrive at such very different conclusions looking at the same evidence? I suggest it is because we see and interpret the evidence differently.
Wallace: When considering two or more closely competing explanations for a particular event, I now assess the following factors:
- The truth must be feasible
- The truth will usually be straightforward
- The truth should be exhaustive
- The truth must be logical
- The truth will be superior
Now it’s time to apply this form of reasoning to a death scene that has been the topic of discussion for over two thousand years. What happened to Jesus of Nazareth? …The question of Jesus’ fate might be compared to our dead body investigation [previously discussed]. …Dr. Gary Habermas and Professor Mike Licona have taken the time to identify the “minimal facts” (or evidences) related to the resurrection. …I found four of Habermas’ and Licona’s minimal facts to be the most substantiated by both friends and foes alike:
- Jesus died on the cross and was buried.
- Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one ever produced His body.
- Jesus’ disciples believed that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.
- Jesus’ disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations. pp. 41-43
Gary: That’s odd. That is not how I remember Habermas’ and Licona’s “Minimal Facts” argument. I think Mr. Wallace has made a mistake. Let’s check it out.
Initially Habermas had come up with a list of 12 alleged facts about the Resurrection. Then, he and Licona reduced that number to five facts that nearly all scholars, believers and unbelievers, liberals and conservatives, would agree are true historical facts. Here they are:
(see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus)
1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion
2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead
3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection
4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James
5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a committed follower of Jesus the Messiah.
Now, look back at Wallace’s statement above. What do you see? Wallace has conflated Habermas’ original twelve facts about the Resurrection with Habermas’ and Licona’s (five) “minimal facts” about the Resurrection! He has taken the claim that Jesus was buried and that his tomb was empty from the first list and placed them in the second list and then alleged that the burial and empty tomb of Jesus are among the four most substantiated claims about the Resurrection…”by friends and foes alike”. That is blatantly false! I will give Mr. Wallace the benefit of the doubt that this was an honest mix up of the facts, but it is a big mix up and greatly affects the strength of his future arguments.